Increasingly, customers want their e-tailers to meet their needs not just for delivery, but for returns, too. That means flexible drop-off points, simple labeling and package management, full returns on duties and fees and other features. In many ways, responsive returns options are just the inverse of the delivery methods, but not entirely. It’s important for e-commerce players to know what their consumer base expects out of returns and implement the platform necessary to meet those needs.

According to Invesp, online shoppers return 30 percent of their purchases, compared to less than 9 percent for physical stores. Generally, the majority of returns happen for one of the following reasons:

  1. Wrong item shipped
  2. Product looks different than advertised
  3. Damaged goods

Those three items combined for 65 percent of consumers’ reasons for return, with the remainder going to “other.”

While e-businesses could temper the demand on their returns policy by taking action to remedy these three issues, it’s impossible to guarantee 100 percent satisfaction every single time. Sometimes people return items simply because they change their mind. As a result, e-tailers would be best served to plan for heavy returns rather than be unable to handle a high volume and hope for a lower number of returns.

Not only that, but those who return products more frequently can actually be some of the best customers, according to a study from the Journal of Marketing Research. That’s because consumers who find it easy and painless to return and item they don’t like will be quicker to make a purchase.

“Product returns are no small part of the firm-customer exchange process, currently costing firms about $100 billion annually,” noted authors J. Andrew Petersen and V. Kumar. “However, these same returns create long-term value because customers who feel there is little risk in making the wrong purchase keep coming back.”

To that end, here are some of the attributes customers value the most in e-commerce returns.

  1. A simple process
    As that study revealed, e-shoppers value a returns process that comes without unnecessary obstacles. If a purchase is simple, a return should be just as easy. As it stands, many e-tailers still require their customers to print their own labels, find their own shipping company, and essentially take ownership of the returns process. Instead, the best returns policies leverage regional fulfillment centers and easy-to-print labels so customers don’t have to be logistics experts to ensure a successful return. Specifically, customers who specified a particular delivery point will probably be unwilling to travel far and wide to find the right return pick-up location. E-tailers should allow customers to send their items back from the same place they picked up their product in the first place.

“Returns represent an opportunity to make customers happy.”

  1. A full refund
    If customers are unhappy with the quality or condition of the product – or if they simply don’t like it – they will probably seek a full refund and e-tailers should not hesitate to provide that. Again, in this instance, it is not about trying to retain money on the sale – it is about satisfying the consumers and driving repeat sales. But a full refund does not only include the price of the item, but also of any taxes or fees associated with shipping, particularly cross-border. In some cases, a customer will be satisfied with a store credit, but e-businesses should communicate with the consumer to find the best solution.
  2. A quick exchange
    Sometimes customers are happy with the product, but need a different size or received something that was damaged or malfunctioning. They will want to exchange that product for something similar, and they will want to do it fast. The last thing you want is for a customer with an upcoming wedding, for example, to cut it close because a product exchange is taking too long. On the other hand, a fast and convenient replacement may just win over that customer for life.

Many e-tailers see returns as simply an overhead cost, but in reality, returns represent an opportunity to make customers happy. In turn, that leads to more returning shoppers and higher, more consistent revenue streams. The trick is to partner with a global, independent logistics provider that knows the ropes already. The best of these provide everything from the fulfillment centers to the software infrastructure to the customer support to lead e-tailers into a responsive, flexible, customer-oriented returns management strategy. And that’s exactly what we offer.

We help to create a win-win scenario: The e-company saves money on returns and wins over more customers, while the consumer gets a simpler returns process and either a full refund or an ideal item exchange.


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